We may be born with the gene abnormalities or they can develop over time. Some families seem to have a large number of cancers in them. Those cancers seem to be of similar types and occur in younger family members. This is what we call a familial cancer and is likely the result of a gene abnormality that is passed along from parent to child. Today, we are able to identify many of these gene abnormalities through a simple blood test; and, once identified, we can take steps to prevent cancer.
Approximately 90% of cancers are what we call sporadic. These cancers occur as an accumulation of gene abnormalities over our lifetimes. Many agents, such as chemicals, sunlight, viruses, and radiation can damage the genes and lead to cancer. While most people know that smoking is associated with lung cancers caused by breathing in the cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes, many are surprised to find that cigarette smoking is also associated with cancers of the cervix, skin cancers of the vulva and vagina, kidney cancer, and bladder cancer. This is because chemicals, including cancer-causing chemicals, are naturally broken down by the body and pass through the urinary system. Since the urinary system tends to accumulate these toxic chemicals, cancers can develop in these organs. Even simple things such as exposure to sunlight can produce skin cancers.
Even though we know that exposure to known carcinogens such as radiation, chemicals, viruses, and other agents cause DNA changes, we still find it difficult to nail down a direct cause of any cancer. This is likely because the disease that we call cancer is a genetic disease involving different genes, AND these genes have a tendency to be affected by different cancer-causing agents. Even though we can predict the changes in abnormal genes associated with each cancer, no two cancers are exactly alike. Even cancer cells within the same individual vary from tumor to tumor showing us that cancers can change within the same individual over time.
This genetic instability or the ability of cancers to change over time presents the biggest challenge to treating patients with cancer. Treatments used in the past sometimes become gradually less effective as the cancer learns ways to adapt and change. Recent research has focused on identifying the exact gene abnormalities in each individual cancer. Once those abnormalities are identified, specific drug molecules can be developed that only target those abnormalities—leaving everything else alone. These targeted biological treatments get to the heart of the basic disease of cancers. The long-term hope for the future treatment of cancer patients is based on development of these new molecules and a new understanding of cancer development pathways.
|How Did I Get Cancer?|
Discussion of gene abnormalities, environmental agents, dietary deficiencies, genetic changes, and adaptation to the environment
|What Can Cancer Do To Me|
Cancer will change everything—your choices, physical body, relationships, fear, spirituality, isolation--positively or negatively; cancer will re-energize you towards your life’s long-term goals
|What Cancer Cannot Do To Me|
Discussion that cancer cannot change who you are, cannot define who you are, cannot take away hope, cannot take away love
Draw on your strengths prior to your cancer diagnosis
|What Is Cancer?|
Explanation of cancer, cancer’s terminology and definitions, and the goal of oncology
Introduction to needs, questions, and pillars of wisdom for cancer diagnosis